When it comes to humility, fire service members usually lead the pack. You’re not going to find Joe Firefighter cruising around town boasting about his job to every Tom, Dick and Harry. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Daniel Byrne, who serves as Community Support Officer for the Burton Fire District in South Carolina, condensed a firefighter’s typical day down to a simple routine: come to work, do your job, go home.
Ask Byrne to add some flare to describe the line of duty and the result is almost glamorous: Respond to calls, fight fires, then go home.
But Byrne says that type of mindset needs to change. As an outspoken proponent of encouraging firefighters to be more enthusiastic about informing their community and neighbors about their occupations, Byrne urges enhanced public relations with those same communities and local media to spread the word and tell the firefighter story.
“Times have changed and so much focus is now placed on economic efficiency and transparency,” said Byrne, who has had numerous articles about effective public relations strategies published in Firehouse magazine and online at Firehouse.com.
“It’s all about ‘what are you doing for me today? What services are you providing for me today to warrant tax dollars?’ If they don’t truly know what we do in-between fires, what challenges we face, and what our needs are to meet those challenges – along with the consequences for not having those resources – how can they support us?”
The public is simply uninformed because no one in the fire service is informing them, Byrne believes.
“People in your community can tell you reams of information on the Kardashians and the latest story on the bathroom wars, but can’t tell you what the leading cause of fire in their community is or how many fires their department responds to,” said Byrne.
“People are asking why we pay firefighters to sleep. Managers and government officials are asking. Now the public is asking. The public want answers to these questions that we never had to provide.”
Byrne cites the problem coming down to fire departments assuming what the public wants, but never actually asking. In reality, departments need to be more proactive in order to close the disconnect between themselves and the community, he said. This can include teaching classes, writing articles about the firehouse, providing guest speakers for schools and other social groups, and generally do everything possible to engage the public. The fire service’s perceived value can no longer be taken for granted.
Breaking out of the traditional persona of staying quiet is a role the fire service can’t afford to play anymore. For example, for many people sprinklers aren’t seen as a necessity because not enough speakers going out into the community to explain the benefits.
“Going out into the community and doing blood pressure checks and talking about fire extinguishers and smoke detectors is just as effective, if not more so, than any large scale fire program,” Byrne said.
Ultimately, as Byrne states, prevention is a major part of fire protection and taking the proper steps to communicate this to the public and ensure safety can save lives and keep the damage to a minimum.
About the Author
Daniel Byrne is an Engineer/Paramedic and Community Support Officer for the Burton Fire District in Beaufort County, S.C. He is also an Assistant Chief of Training for the Georgia Air National Guard 165th Fire Department. Byrne is a third generation firefighter and holds both an associate and bachelor’s degree in Fire Science, and a Fire Officer and Fire Instructor III certification.